Musings on SHOT IN DETROIT by Patricia Abbott

ShotInTheDarkAbbottAudioI could tell you the reason I haven’t posted my thoughts about Patricia Abbott’s SHOT IN DETROIT is that I’ve been really busy. But that would be a lie. Not the first part…I have been stupidly busy…but that’s not the reason I didn’t want to say anything about this book. I have been reluctant to reveal what this particular reading experience taught me about myself. Being confronted with evidence that you are not the person you’ve convinced yourself you are is unpleasantly awkward.

I have often remarked that I do not need to like a book’s main character to like the book itself. Turns out that is not as accurate a statement as I want it to be. And then there’s learning I really don’t like artists much. Ouch.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

Violet Hart is an artistic photographer. A not very successful one. When we meet her she’s staring at 40 and if not outright desperate then very, very keen to make a mark in her chosen field and realises the opportunity might be slipping away. Her lover, Bill, is a funeral director. He takes great pride in taking care of his clients, often dressing them in stylish clothes he has sourced himself. One day Bill asks Violet to take a photo of one of his clients, after the young man has been dressed and made up but before his burial. The man’s family is overseas and won’t be able to attend the funeral so Violet’s photo is all they’ll have. The act of taking the photo – getting it right – spurs Violet’s creativity. Could she put together a collection of photographs of the dead?

If you find that premise creepy you’re not alone. I did. Still do if truth be told though I think Violet – and Abbott – made a decent case for the idea having merit by the end of the book. But I know in my heart I wouldn’t go to see such an exhibition were one to open nearby. A lot of the people in the story were troubled by it too. Including Bill who Violet cajoles into asking the families of most of his clients for permission to photograph and he does though with increasing reluctance. But the further she gets into the project the more demanding Violet becomes. Because this could be the something special she’s been looking for. Because most of Bill’s clients are young black men. Bill himself is black and he says black people want to use ‘one of their own’ when it comes to funerals. Violet’s photographs then are saying something about the fact that young black men – at least in Detroit – have a habit of dying.

While all this is going on Violet also becomes tangentially involved in a criminal investigation. It starts when she is wandering her city looking for interesting ways to photograph the city. On Bell Isle – an island park in the Detroit River – she befriends a street artist with some mental health issues and artistic interests nearly as bizarre as Violet’s.  His death brings Violet into contact with the police.

At some point during all of this I gave up even trying to like Violet. I just couldn’t. I don’t think it’s only because of the artistic subject, though that didn’t help. But even if she were taking photos of smiling babies I wouldn’t have liked her. She is so self-absorbed and obsessed with her art that she doesn’t care who she hurts to get what she wants. Towards the end of the story something truly, truly awful happens and Violet barely stops to draw breath before setting up her gear and taking a photo. All I could think was “cold-hearted bitch“.

And so we come to the heart of the matter. I really didn’t like Violet. And each time I stopped reading I became reluctant to re-start. I wanted to know what would happen – there’s so much I haven’t brought up here that is utterly fascinating about Violet’s family history and the way the story builds to its inevitable but entirely (by me) unpredicted third act – but I wanted to find out without having to spend more time with Violet. The wanting to know what would happen won out in the end but I came to almost resent the book for forcing me to spend time with such an unpleasant human being. I could go to work and do that and at least be paid.

But that’s a pretty good effort on the part of the author. She hooked me so thoroughly in the intertwined story of Violet and the city of Detroit – a city so damaged by the global financial meltdown that you can feel it creaking into decay – that I read on regardless of my growing antipathy towards Violet. Horrid though she may be (to me) Violet is totally compelling and the picture Abbott paints of Detroit is hauntingly memorable. When combined with the very good narration by Jennywren Walker of the audio version, the book’s sense of place made me truly feel like I was there.

If art is – at its best – supposed to make the beholder think then SHOT IN DETROIT is an absolute winner. I’m still mulling over aspects of it a month later. Does the end – in this case a successful and thought-provoking photographic exhibition – always justify the means? Is trampling over the feelings and needs of others what it takes to create great art? And if it is why can’t artists go get a proper job instead of hurting people for their cause. Do we need art that badly?

So do I recommend the book? The writing is excellent and the story suspenseful in a way that almost everything labelled ‘suspense’ fails to be. But should I be recommending you spend time with someone so unpleasant as Violet Hart? Someone so well written you won’t even be able to leave her within the pages of the book? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Jennywren Walker
Publisher Audible Studios [2016]
Length 8 hours 54 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone

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14 Responses to Musings on SHOT IN DETROIT by Patricia Abbott

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    What a thoughtful and well-written post, Bernadette. I would say a book that you’re still thinking about after you’ve read it is a memorable story. A book that you consider that well-written, and with that much suspense, counts as compelling. And I know exactly what you mean about being confronted with yourself when you read. I’ve had that happen and it really is awkward. Still, it sounds as though it is one of those books that really stays with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patti Abbott says:

    What an interesting, interesting review. I think your complete dislike of her is perfectly understandable. I wanted to capture something of several artists I know and perhaps I didn’t consider the reader enough in doing that. My husband suggested I write another book about Violet, but I said no. Two years or more with Violet was enough. Thanks for struggling along. And yes, the reader is great. Must email her and say so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t imagine spending that much time with Violet Patti. I am glad you don’t seem to be offended over my conflicted feelings about this book 🙂

      I think perhaps I am glad I don’t know any artists very well


  3. realthog says:

    Hm. Sounds like something I could go for, actually. Many thanks for the headsup.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. tracybham says:

    I disliked Violet (tho not to the extent you did) for the self-absorbed attitude, but I liked her for her determination. I agree wholeheartedly that Patti Abbott hooks the reader in and even as I cringed at some occurrences, I could not have stopped reading the book. It took me out of my comfort level and I found it a great experience. I enjoyed your post very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent point Tracy – the book takes you out of your comfort zone – which is OF COURSE uncomfortable – so I guess I was reacting as intended 🙂

      I wanted not to dislike Violet as much as I did but couldn’t help myself

      Liked by 1 person

  5. kathy d. says:

    Well, now I’m intrigued. How can an artist be this reprehensible? How can the book be so well-written that you couldn’t put it down even though you disliked the protagonist?
    This is now alluring to me so that I can see the multiple layers of the character. And knowing a bit about Detroit’s downfall — and having friends who were hit by the city pension and health insurance cuts — I think I’d be interested in this book.
    I’ll write it down in my TBR and see if the library has it.
    I may not like Violet either but I’ll find out why.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d be interested to see what you make of it Kathy. And it won’t matter if takes you ages to get hold of the book, I’ll still be able to discuss it in detail…it’s not one I will forget in a hurry


  6. kathy d. says:

    The library has it and it’s newly in so I’ll get it soon. I will keep your points in mind as I read it.
    Meanwhile, I just spent a week and a half reading a tome by Kate Morton. I think for people who want a relaxing family saga without violence and with secret romances that it would be fine, like for a convalescence or just escapism or to relax. Once I started it, I couldn’t stop without reading all 492 pages. But I really prefer shorter, snappier books.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. kathy d. says:

    Well, I finished Shot in Detroit and basically, I liked it. I thought I wouldn’t because of the macabre subject matter, but I thought Patti Abbott handed it well and sensitively. I thought I’d have to skip ghoulish sections, but I never thought any part was too ghoulish to read about. When I read psychological suspense thrillers, I have to skip a lot of brutality and gratuitous violence. I didn’t have to skip anything here.
    Yes, Violet Hart is self-absorbed and driven by her photographic goals. I didn’t think she was insensitive to relatives of the deceased. And she was kind to Derek Olsen’s mother and even put up with his bizarre behavior which many real people would not do.
    My only critique was about the way Violet’s parentage was handled, her finding out a secret about her father. I didn’t think that was handled so sensitively nor the remarks about Michael Jackson. How would African-American readers feel about all of that?
    And I, too, was surprised at how quickly she got into photographing her lover, instead of grieving further. It was so quick a change.
    I did like the book though and the characters, including Violet, Bill, Di, and crazy Derek.
    I hope the author writes more about Violet Hart, although without any dead bodies next time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the book Kathy, and Violet too. I wouldn’t want to spend any more time with her in a future book but the world would be so dull if we all agreed about everything. And we can at least agree that Patti Abbott is a terrific writer.


  8. kathy d. says:

    Yes, we do agree that Patti Abbott is a good writer. One thing I appreciate is her sense of humor. And, rather than it being labeled “psychological suspense,” or like Ruth Rendell’s books, it reminded me more of Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski.

    Liked by 1 person

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